On Wednesday, Motherboard published our poll of 105 experts who weighed in on their hopes and worries about the future. The results are best read in full—here’s the link for the hopes and here’s the link to the worries.
By far the most frequently mentioned worry was climate change, followed by a spike in political extremism. The majority of participants referenced human ingenuity and collective action as sources of hope and inspiration—and specifically that younger generations made them optimistic.
Read on for a highlight reel of our major takeaways from the survey, exemplified by some of the answers that have stuck with us most.
What worries you most about the future?
Temperatures are rising faster today than during many of the great extinctions and upheavals of Earth history, and the consequences are going to be severe.
—Steve Brusatte, paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh and author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs
If we cannot unify around the climate crisis now, will we be able to during climate-caused displacement and mass migration? With the political polarization we see in many countries, including the US?
Climate change and the return of fascism, fueling each other.
—Izabella Łaba, professor of mathematics at the University of British Columbia
Will we be zombified by artificial intelligence that we have unwittingly programmed to evolve to manipulate us?
—Athena Aktipis, assistant professor of psychology and Lincoln Professor of Ethics at Arizona State University, director of the Cooperation and Conflict Lab, co-director of the Human Generosity Project, and chair of the Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Alliance
Everything is becoming a computer and everything will be interconnected. There‘s nothing we can do to prevent this from happening. If it uses electricity, it will be on the internet. And that is scary as hell.
—Mikko Hyppönen, computer security expert and chief research officer at F-Secure, Finland
Our ongoing struggle with difference. Our anger, fear, anxiety, and contempt for people who look different from ourselves have undermined, and continue to undermine, our democracy, our progress, and our ability to tap the best minds and deliver opportunity that could move us forward.
—Celeste Watkins-Hayes, professor of sociology and African American studies at Northwestern University, faculty fellow at Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research, and author of Remaking a Life: How Women Living with HIV/AIDS Confront Inequality
Pretty much everything in the “science fiction” movie WALL-E will become real.
—Tabetha Boyajian, astrophysicist at Louisiana State University
Humankind. Our anthropocentrism and the epistemic imbalances that allow us to think and act towards the idea that we can colonize the future.
—Geci Karuri-Sebina, African urbanist and futurist, South Africa
Not only the lack of science literacy in our society, but the glorification of it. The effects of it on human health and quality of life are real, from individual choices up to decisions being made at the government level.
—Tanya Harrison, planetary scientist, director of research at Arizona State University‘s Space Technology and Science Initiative, and science team collaborator for the Mars Opportunity rover and the Mars 2020 missions
Governments and other traditionally reliable sources of information will continue to intentionally mislead people about scientific findings, and therefore prevent policy-makers from doing what is ultimately better for humanity.
—Pamela Templer, professor in the department of biology and director of the PhD Program in Biogeoscience at Boston University
Even with our intellectual capacity to envision conflicts and moral and ethical dilemmas, we continue to make short-sighted decisions about power, resources, and energy that are inequitable and unsustainable.
What gives you the most hope about the future?
—Paul-Olivier Dehaye, mathematician and founder of PersonalData.IO, Switzerland
Young people and the power of networks. Particularly the ones who are standing up and using whatever platform they have for good.
—Jess Wade, physicist at the Blackett Laboratory at Imperial College London
Technology can bring us closer together, enhance our relationships, and connect us to friends old and new. Tech won’t replace our relationships; it will enhance them.
—Kate Devlin, senior lecturer in social and cultural AI in the department of digital humanities at King‘s College London and author of Turned On: Science, Sex, and Robots
Cheaper and more efficient infrastructure is driven by artificial intelligence and the proliferation of the mobile phone, and it empowers young people to learn, innovate, and build a better future for themselves.
Hunger will end when science becomes a diverse, inclusive place—and then all the other massive challenges will fall too. Striving for true partnerships in science and technology gets me out of bed.
—Laura Boykin, computational biologist and head of Boykin Lab at the University of Western Australia
The universe is large enough that somewhere in it there may be truly intelligent life.
—Matthew Colless, director of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Australian National University
Humankind created most of this problem and therefore humankind has the power to stop it.
—Mitchell Joachim, associate professor of practice at New York University and co-founder of Terreform ONE
Greed and hate are deviations and, ultimately, require too much effort to be sustainable. We will find our way out of this dark, dark valley. We always have.
—Greg Asbed, human rights strategist at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Fair Food Program, USA
Finding examples of kindness in humanity. Even after disasters and wars, there are examples of this. That gives me hope that we will find a way to continue.
—Leroy Chiao, PhD, former NASA astronaut and ISS Commander, and CEO and co-founder of OneOrbit LLC, USA
I spend most of my day thinking about the universe—its birth, life, death. Do I worry about the future? No.
—Robert Caldwell, theoretical physicist and professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College
Hope is a dangerous word. It’s what we do when we feel we’ve lost control or are powerless to do anything more. We “hope” someone else (like the government) will fix the problem, or a scientist will “science” us out of the mess we’re in. I encourage people not to hope, but to do. Do something.
—Jennifer Lavers, research scientist at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, Australia
Same responses to both questions
“The fact that the future doesn‘t need humans.”
—Matteo Bittanti, assistant professor in Media Studies and head of MA Program in Game Design at IULM University, Italy
—Huey-Jen Jenny Su, air pollution expert and president of National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan
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